You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence. It's only when we see someone near us tottering that we realize all that an independent income means. Last night, when we were talking up here around the fire, I began to think that the very soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of love, but the absence of coin.
E. M. Forster tackles the issues surrounding the clash of emerging modernity and traditional manners in Edwardian Britain. Howards End is a novel about two very different kinds of families. The Schlegal sisters, Margaret and Helen, are modern women, educated and socially aware, tired of old-fashioned manners and men's chivalry. The Wilcoxes, on the other hand, are all about property, respectability, keeping up appearances and the reputation of the family name.
The two families come together, intertwine and inevitably clash. The common factor, as well as the dividing element, is a member of the poor working classes, Leonard Bast, whose biggest dream is to achieve the culturation and manners needed to climb the social ladder and be able to pass as one of the upper classes. He obsessively reads "the classics" and tries to appear civilized in the presence of the upper class families he worships and admires. However, the combination of the Schlegal sisters' pity and charity as well as the Wilcoxes' total disregard towards his struggles eventually force Leonard Bast to a desperate dead-end.
Behind the saturated Englishness, the tiresome social calls, the witty dialogue of complex, hidden meanings, lies Howards End - a family house that comes to symbolize the England that is both fascinating and frightfully old, fighting against modernity and industrialization, but having to accommodate to inevitable social advancements.
Besides being a novel about social issues, Howards End is also a feminist novel, which is quite interesting considering that it was written by a man in the early 1900s.
E. M. Forster: Howards End. Signet. 1992.
E. M. Forster.info: Howards End
Wikipedia: Howards End
Wikipedia: E. M. Forster